Orders of the Day — American Aid and European Payments (Financial Pro Visions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th January 1949.

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Photo of Miss Jennie Lee Miss Jennie Lee , Cannock 12:00 am, 27th January 1949

And Wall Street too, or a bit of Wall Street. The big part, however, has been played by the organised workers of America. These workers have got their candidate into the White House. One has got to be very careful when making comparisons, political, social or economic, between our country and America, but, at least, let us appreciate that it was not easy for American public opinion to come to the decision that made propositions of this kind possible, that there was great agony and argument all over the country. The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith made reference to Mr. Dean Atcheson and before that to Mr. Marshall. No doubt, he would have preferred the ideas of the American Communist Party and Mr. Henry Wallace to have prevailed. I have seen a great deal of the organized industrial workers of America. They asked Mr. Marshall to come and explain his plans to them. They made clear first to Mr. Marshall and now in co-operation with Mr. Truman and Mr. Dean Atcheson, that they are not seeking to dominate the economic life of this country, Europe or anywhere else. They understand that if we should collapse then America collapses too. Intelligent self-interest and fine sentiments are marching hand in hand.

I imagine it must have been the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith, the hon. Member for West Fife or one of their friends who got hold of Mr. Henry Wallace when he was in this country and told him that, of course, Britain would not be permitted to nationalise its steel industry because Wall Street would not permit it. When Mr. Wallace went back to America, he appeared before an important public committee and based his objection to Marshall Aid partly on those grounds against what is in fact happening. The hon. Member for South Dorset must be feeling, as I said, very lonely for we have President Truman telling the American steel masters that if they do not produce sufficient quantities of steel to meet America's needs, the Government are going to build their own steel plants. In other words, far from the most reactionary elements of American capitalism dominating our way of life, we can pride ourselves that many of the things we have done in this last year or two have been so much admired in America that America to a considerable extent is going in the same direction.

When the economic situation is difficult a real contribution can be made by the right kind of faith. Sometimes we err by thinking we are very clever and understand the dangers and the hopes in the world but that other people cannot be expected to understand. Maybe there was even a small element of patronage in some of the things we said and thought about the general American public. We assumed they could not see through Mr. Dewey, could not see that the barefooted boy from Wall Street would be a disaster for America. We thought that a Presidential candidate pledged to free America's important trade union movements, pledged to great housing projects, pledged to health service schemes rather like our own, pledged to restore controls and rationing if necessary, was the kind of appeal to which the American public could not possibly have responded.

One of the happy surprises of the postwar world is that America is working wholeheartedly with progressive opinion here and in other parts of the world, some calling themselves Socialists, some Liberals and others without any definite party labels at all, but all working towards a common social pattern in which we plan our economic resources to give maximum productivity and usefulness, while at the same time cherishing free speech, free opinion, free religion and free institutions. Is not that something immensely worth while? Is it not intellectually and emotionally exciting that we can look back on the crisis of 1947 and to our mood immediately at the end of the war, and now in this House today, although we are not dewy-eyed optimists and although we have still many difficulties to overcome, can see the conscience of the Western world insisting that we help ourselves by helping one another. Nor in doing so do we forget the needs of India, Burma, China or Malaya, where the great rice and primary food needs are still unsolved. The background of these financial proposals is really as wide as the world.

I am grateful to the dominant current trends in American public opinion and Government circles which make it possible for us to face our problems cooperatively. I sometimes feel dizzy when I hear the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset speak, but I agree with him at least when he says that this is not an age for old-fashioned nationalism. What we have now to decide is not whether or not we are to be linked with other nations but what form the link will take—whether it will be dignified and fruitful co-operation or servile and humiliating bondage.

Turning from the receiving to the giving parts of these proposals, I have been looking at the 19 programmes with a considerable amount of scepticism. I do not want to seem unjust or ungenerous, but maybe one reason why it is possible for Labour Britain and free enterprise America to be as friendly as they are now becoming, is that America knows that she can depend on us. Americans know that if we make a plan and say so much will be our contribution, it will be so. Now we are put in the same relationship to many European countries as we have been to America. We have to consider how far we can tie our finances, economics and industries to other countries some of whom, for all kinds of reasons, have not got our type of Civil Service and often do not pay their Income Tax as we do. We do not like paying Income Tax but in the main we find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can get from us the money he is determined to get.

I hope that side by side with the economic co-operation which we are planning in Europe there will be more meeting together of Members of Parliament from all the freely elected assemblies of Europe. It is not enough for governments or government-chosen representatives to meet for they bring with them their national briefs. It is important that we, the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Dutch and the rest should meet together and discuss our difficulties and dangers without giving offence to each other on a national level.

The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith, being a little subtler than the hon. Member for West Fife, disguised his thesis in what he thought might be a palatable method by rousing our fears of German competition. He omitted many considerations but said that one reason for rejecting these proposals was that Western Germany was in a most reactionary condition. I agree with him that the Government's record in the handling of the Ruhr industries is not what it might have been. I wish that the heavy industries of the Ruhr had been socialised, and I think they could have been if we had exerted ourselves a little more. It may be said that that is impossible but I do not think that these problems will be solved on the basis of attempting to internationalise only the Ruhr industries; all we can hope for from that kind of expedient is the most vigorous revival of German nationalism. We must get out of our rather timid and old-fashioned notions. We must realise that in the modern world it is sometimes easier to do a big job than a small patching job.

It was from some Americans that I first heard enthusiastically propounded that we ought to be preparing to internationalise under public ownership and control not just the heavy industries of the Ruhr but the heavy industries of all Western Europe. What is wrong with that? It does not appeal to our Conservative Party but we cannot afford to be hopelessly old fashioned in such matters. If such ideas do not gain credence throughout Western Europe we cannot begin to marry our economic and political aspirations for greater unity within a framework of expanding economic resources needed to secure rising standards of life for all of us.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said if we all worked hard and exported a great deal in the next four years, we should not only be able to reach the fine goal of freedom from American dependence but also be able to improve our standard of living a little. I do not blame the Chancellor for it, but what he omitted to tell us was the form at which that increase in our standard of life would occur. Will it go to the butcher, the baker, the railway man or the miner? Which section of the community will benefit? Unless he defines rather more clearly where in terms of social justice he thinks these easements should go, he is inviting us to a kind of free fight in which we shall see how far our pressure groups can win advantages. For instance, every trade union member in this House knows the difficulty he has about his lower paid workers. Will such hon. Members get a share specifically for their workers?

Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer say to the women of Great Britain—women in industry and professional women alike—"You did a fine job during the war. We agree in principle that if a woman does the same job as a man she should be paid the same amount, but please do not embarrass us, please realise that there is an economic crisis and do not make any demands this year, next year or in the years after." I want to know where I stand on this matter because I do not like cheating, and I feel that if we tie ourselves to this programme there is only a very limited field for manoeuvring in which we can get advances. Against the background of the needs of children, old people and family units, it was not possible in the crisis of 1947 to press as an immediate economic proposition the demand for equal pay for equal work. But do not forget that this is not only an economic demand but also a profound psychological need. We require more workers and willing workers. Among women we shall get more workers and more willing work if in industry and in the professions, they feel that they are having fair play.

I appreciate the difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I appreciate that in the next four years there is not a great deal he can do to achieve a rising standard of life, but I hope that he will remember that some of us have played the game over these sectional interests and would now therefore like him to define which industrial groups, and particularly groups where women are being paid abnormally low wages, can hope to benefit in the next four years. If he does that, he will find that we are not unreasonable and that we are all very proud of the collective record of this country and very certain of the contribution our country will make to the welfare of the world now and in the future.